Former BJP president Nitin Gadkari added to the tension when he chatted over lunch with Raj Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief and the bête noire of his ally Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, earlier this week.
It’s not only Mr Gadkari but the entire BJP that’s keen to ensure that the alliance bags most of the state’s 48 seats without repeating the 2009 election scenario. The split in saffron votes then had enabled the Congress-NCP candidates to scrape past the finishing line in at least nine constituencies, mainly in the Mumbai region, where Raj’s candidates got nearly 20% of the votes polled. But both Uddhav and Raj have been adamant in their refusal to have any electoral understanding.
The Sena-BJP grouping was expanded to include three sub-regional parties and seat-sharing between them was finalised a day before Mr Gadkari’s conversation with Raj. Surely, he would have known that there’s no room to accommodate Raj in this ‘Mahayuti’, as it’s now called. Nor would Raj be amenable to taking an election holiday.
The Gadkari-Raj conversation expectedly left a trail of damage: The alliance was briefly in jeopardy, a livid Uddhav had to be pacified, election in-charge and Mr Gadkari’s arch-rival Gopinath Munde stayed away from party meetings, and the BJP nearly split into two camps.
This is not the first time that Mr Gadkari has thrown a spanner in the works; his recent rosy remarks about NCP chief Sharad Pawar had raised the hackles of his party colleagues. What then was Mr Gadkari trying to achieve? It seems he was attempting to signal his unique position to his party bosses in Delhi and stay relevant in a Munde-controlled Maharashtra.
Uddhav eventually termed this intra-BJP rivalry a “communication gap”. He knows it was more than that. The saffron allies have stuck it out, of late lurching from one crisis to another, but they have felt the absence of the easy communication that the late Pramod Mahajan and Bal Thackeray shared. There was no room for mischievous and open-ended conversations then.